Margaret Anstee came to Newnham from rural Essex in 1944, to read Modern and Mediaeval Languages. Her school was dubious that someone with her background could apply to Cambridge, but her parents, who hadn’t been able to attend secondary school themselves, were intensely supportive of their daughter’s talents and ambitions.
She joined the Foreign Office, but was forced to resign when she got married. As a result, she joined the UN, where she would have a long and distinguished career.
She was the first woman to be Under-Secretary General of the UN, in 1987. She served all over the world during her career including in South America, Ethiopia (where she met up with fellow alumna Aida Desta) and Morocco. She coordinated the response to disasters from the Bangladesh cyclone to Chernobyl, and led the UN team which attempted to secure a peace settlement in Angola. She also advised successive UN secretaries-general on post-conflict peace building.
Her autobiography, Never Learn to Type, is her account of a remarkable life.
The Margaret Anstee Centre for Global Studies, based here in Newnham, marks her legacy.
Margaret Anstee was one of three remarkable women featured on the 2020 Freshers’ T-shirts